A new small group will study spiritual practices that help create intimacy with God. Tayler Necoechea will lead “Selah: Prayer Practices,” a six-week series, starting Tuesday, January 26 at 6 pm. Additionally, they will also use Mighty Networks for mid-week individual prayer practices to reflect on each week. To take this opportunity to explore your discipleship journey, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Sunday, September 22, 2019, Pastor Jennifer Smith-Walz preached a sermon titled “Companions Along The Way” from the sermon series “Come! Journey With Jesus.” The Scripture for the week is 2 Kings 2:1-15
As you think about your discipleship, think of who has helped you along the way. Teachers, mentors, authors? As a Seminary graduate, pastor, lifelong churchgoer, I’ve had many teachers, been to many classes, read many books, listened to many sermons and podcasts, done many studies, and attended many retreats. What has been the most impactful to me is talking and hearing from other people who helped me along the way, and asking how it is with my soul. When called to discipleship, did I follow, or did I not follow? Do I feel accountable for those things I did?
Discipleship means intentionally following Christ. It’s a journey through which God’s grace transforms us and opens us to see ourselves as God sees us, as his beloved. We can then learn to love God, and Jesus and others. This week we remember that disciples are made, not born. There is no such thing as a solitary disciple. In discipleship, we discover more and more how crucial companions are on this journey.
Today the story of Elijah and Elisha who are Old Testament prophets makes us see what companionship along the way means. Though we are in the Old Testament, even before Christ’s coming, the pattern is parallel to that of the New Testament. It starts in 1 Kings 19. Elijah is not only a prophet but a super-prophet. God tells him to take on Elisha as his successor. Elijah found Elisha plowing the field and threw his mantle on him. Elisha knew what it meant. He was at first reluctant like the rich young ruler of last week, but he accepted the call. We also need to hear God’s invitation through inward and outward calls. How? When? Discernment, resistance, acceptance.
We know Elisha received on-the-job training and became Elijah’s disciple. The job was difficult and risky. It involved speaking God’s truth to people, especially those in power, holding them in check, warning, and correcting them. It requires remaining faithful to YAHWEH in a world where Pharaoh had all the power.
In this remarkable journey of discipleship, Elisha made an undying commitment to a life together with Elijah, sticking with him through stability but also conflict, struggle, or disagreements. Elisha was Elijah’s disciple until Elijah was taken up into heaven. Elisha was able to see when the whirlwind and chariot of fire came and was ready to receive Elijah’s mantle, a symbol of authority and God’s power. When Elijah’s time ended, Elisha became the new prophet.
Companions help us to live more fully into who God created us to be, with our unique gifts, personalities, spirit types, etc. Leaders emerge or are called, holding faith for each other. This companionship is reminiscent of John Wesley and the Holy Club.
How is it with your soul? Do you follow God with all your heart? Will you answer God’s call? If yes, then find a companion. I invite you to travel on this journey of discipleship together.
The sermon is a podcast on this webpage under the category worship. Here is the link
For the complete video of the September 22 service, found on Princeton United Methodist Church Facebook page, click here.
On Sunday, September 8, 2019, Pastor Jennifer Smith-Walz preached a sermon titled “Where Are We Going?” from the sermon series “Come! Journey With Jesus.” The Scripture for the week is from Mark 8:34-9:1, Mark 12:28-34.
At the Great Commission, recorded in Matthew 28:19, Jesus calls on his followers to make disciples of all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit.
We continuously refer to discipleship when talking about curriculum, tithes, work, mission, or even Christ’s disciples, but do we know about what we are discussing? Likewise, do we know what we mean when we talk about a destination? Let us hear from one another. Where does our following of Christ take us ultimately? What is our goal in our journey of discipleship? Where are we headed? Heaven, Salvation, Kingdom of God, Heart of God, Unity of God, Holiness, Cross and Resurrection, Total Sanctification, Christian Perfection? Jesus talked a lot with his followers about what his way was. He often asked, “Who am I?” He was the Messiah – the only one, and constant hope. Messiah was the right title but with the wrong understanding.
Peter doesn’t want to hear about suffering and death. Jesus gathered huge crowds and presented them with a set of paradoxes. “Deny yourself and take up the cross; to save your life, you must lose it; lose your life to find it,” he said. Surprisingly, there were followers left after listening to him. The map of Christ is full of mystery, tension, things beyond our grasp. It is not a Da Vinci Code style, nor is it a trick or a game. It is an unfolding of truth and life, always pointing us more deeply into the unfathomable mystery of God’s love and grace. There were disciples left resonating with the deep need and longing for something Christ embodied. But they and we also try to cheapen it by avoiding cross and suffering or by thinking we have to do the work by ourselves. But more disciples mean more burden and responsibility. We despair of a destination we can never actually reach.
In response to a Scribe who asked which commandment matters most, Jesus said, “Love God with your whole being and love your neighbor as yourself.” This type of love is fierce, all-embracing, healing, transforming, and world-changing. A passion that starts with God, not demanded or coerced but evoked by God. Love that costs something when we love God and neighbor fully. It embraces suffering and death – our own and that of others. The story of love is not complete until we see the cross of Christ and the power of God in the resurrection. And Christ invites us into this story, to journey with him. It is not unattainable. Christ came precisely to embody agape love for the world and to show us the possibility and priority of such a love (Paul Ramsay).
Christ presents us with this love because he first loved us. So he invites us to embrace this love and let it change us. It will free us to joyfully respond with our love of Christ and neighbor, love of self, and love for the world. Along the way, we too will pick up our cross, lose our lives only to find that life and love await us.
Discipleship is, therefore, a journey through which God’s grace transforms us, opening us to see ourselves as God sees us, teaching us how to love so we can love God, others, self, and creation as Christ loves.
Invitation to Follow
~by Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Abandon the illusion you’re a self-contained individual.
Be a part of this wounded world,
and find yourself with Christ.
Set aside your own desires,
give yourself fully for others;
be the hands and heart of Jesus.
accept your brokenness,
and reach out for love.
Let go of your own plans.
Join in the healing of the world.
You will not be alone.
Follow your soul, not your ego.
Follow it right into people’s suffering.
Follow it right into the heart of God.
Pour yourself out;
let the world pour in;
then you are one with the Beloved.
The sermon is a podcast on this webpage under the category “worship.” Here is the link
Here is the link for the complete video of the September 8 service at the Princeton United Methodist Church Facebook page.
Branches bear fruit, they don’t make fruit, said Rev. Jana Purkis-Brash in her sermon on Sunday, February 21, 2016. So if Jesus is the vine and we are the branches, we need to remember that we are empowered to do our good works only through Him. She explained other fascinating Biblical references to wine making on February 21, 2016, as below.
I need to preface this sermon by saying, I know nothing about wine. Here we are this morning focused on a passage where Jesus compares himself to a vine, and biblical scholars agree that vine would have been a grapevine, and the grapes would have been used to make wine.
In my research for this sermon, I found out that one foundational principle that applies to both Old World and New World winemaking is that great wine is always a reflection of a particular vineyard. If you want to pick a good wine, in other words, you have to know the source.
Jesus obviously knew a little about wine himself, we see him at social gatherings in the gospels and he knew exactly what kind of wine would impress the guests at the Cana wedding feast. So it shouldn’t be a big surprise that he used the metaphor of a vineyard to describe his relationship to his disciples. Jesus knew that the best way to tell what kind of product you were getting would be to look at the label and see from where in the world it came. In this case, the source isn’t a place but a person — Jesus himself.
Jesus is the Vine. Jesus begins by saying that he is the “true vine”, the source of growth and fruit-bearing, in a vineyard that is tended by God.
God is the Winemaker: The Creator God is the real winemaker, the one who tends the vineyard and assures its quality.
The Vineyard has a history: Turns out, that this vineyard has a long and storied history. The metaphor of the vineyard is used several times in the Old Testament to describe God’s relationship with Israel. In Isaiah 5:1-7, for example, God plants and tends a vineyard but it yields “wild grapes” or inferior fruit — a metaphor for the apostasy of Israel and Judah. The same vineyard imagery is used in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea. In each of these cases, however, Israel is the “vine” and the ultimate source of poor “fruit.”
In the Old Testament, “fruitfulness” was another way of saying “faithfulness,” thus, a lack of good fruit meant that God’s people had failed to be the true, nourishing vine that would bolster God’s reputation in the world as the ultimate fine winemaker. That being the case, it was the winemaker’s job to do some pruning and replacing, which is what the prophets saw the exile as being all about.
Later, God would replant the vineyard with a new stock and that new vine, the “true vine,” would be Jesus himself who embodied the new Israel, God’s Chosen One, the One through whom the whole world would be saved and blessed.
The Branches are the focus: But while the vine is the source for good fruit, there’s a vital link between the vine and its fruit. The “branches” are thus the focus of Jesus’ teaching with his disciples. “I am the vine,” says Jesus to his followers, “you are the branches.” Notice that the disciples of Jesus aren’t the “fruit,” the end product, but the conduit for the vine’s nourishment. The quality of the fruit thus depends on the branches’ connectedness to the vine itself. What Jesus is describing here is the necessary interrelationship between himself and his disciples, us — a relationship characterized by mutuality and indwelling, but one that is also focused on bearing great growth for the whole world.
Look closely at a grapevine, though, and one of the first things you notice about its branches is that it’s very difficult to tell them apart individually. All the branches twist and curl around one another to the point that you can’t tell where one starts and another stops. Jesus’ use of branch imagery is a way of expressing that it’s not the achievement of an individual branch or its status that matters. The quality of branches and fruit depends solely on the quality of their connectedness to the vine. When it comes to discipleship, each “branch” or individual gives up his or her desire for individual achievement in order to become one of many encircling branches — a community that is rooted and nurtured by Christ and points to his reputation and quality, not their own.
With that understanding of branches in mind, there are a couple of things that we branches must remember in order to stay effectively and fruitfully connected to Jesus. First, we have to remember that branches are fruit bearing, and not fruit-making. “Just as the branch cannot bear fruit unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me … Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit because apart from me you can do nothing.” We’ve heard these words of Jesus many times, but we also hear the call of a culture of workaholism, achievement and success that can lure disciples of Christ into thinking that we can be fruitful as a result of our own efforts. Many are the pastors, for example, who have built large churches and famous reputations only to crash and burn as a result of moral failure, which is frequently the result of a failure to stay intimately connected to Jesus. When a branch gets the idea that it can make fruit, make wine, on its own, it dries up, withers, and is no longer useful. The mission of a branch isn’t to look good or to call attention to itself, but to give all the glory to God, the one whose name is on the label.
In the vineyards of Jesus’ day, grapevines grew naturally along the ground instead of being propped up on poles or lattices as they are today. The vinedresser would come along to lift and “clean” the vine, pruning away the excess and dead growth. Jesus uses the same image to describe the way the disciples themselves had been “cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.” That “word” was the teaching and commandment of Jesus and the disciples’ meditation on and obedience to that “word” would help them “remain” or stay connected to his “love” — the nourishing flow from the vine. This is how being connected to Jesus changes our lives.
Reading, meditating and praying through the Scriptures is one way in which disciples are “pruned.” The words of Jesus about the kingdom and the story of his life, death and resurrection focus us on what’s truly important for bearing the fruit of his grace and love to the world. When the writer of Hebrews says that Scripture is “sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12), he might have as easily said that Scripture was the ultimate set of pruning shears, trimming us for the life of discipleship we were meant to live. Such pruning can be painful as God uses it to lop off old habits, but it’s absolutely necessary if we’re going to embrace our purpose as conduits of God’s grace. Again being changed by Jesus.
Great wine is the reflection of a particular vineyard, be it from an Old World tradition or an eclectic New World experiment. God wants to tend the finest vineyard ever, here and now. May we, as disciples of Jesus, the true vine, embrace our role as branches — channels for God’s grace, so that when the world samples the fine vintage of God’s love and grace, they will want to know the winemaker!